CES Restricting Photography of Gadgets Out for All to See

Gadget Lab‘s Rob Beschizza has spotted an especially onerous proviso in the FAQ page for this year’s Consumer Electronics Show, the dreadful orgy of electronics held each January in Las Vegas: show goers, of which there are literally tens of thousands, will not be allowed to photograph products shown in booths without the express permission of the exhibitors.

From the FAQ:

Under no circumstance will anyone be permitted to take pictures of an exhibitor’s product without the permission of the exhibitor. Many products on display at CES are unique, innovative, one-of-a-kind or prototype items. Exhibitors have the right to report to security any instance of inappropriate photographing of company products or displays.

In addition, media will be required to have their camera equipment authorized and stickered by CES staff.

Bullshit.

CES exists for two primary reasons: showing new products to retail buyers who are looking to plan inventory purchases to fill up stores cleaned out by holiday shopping and to promote the latest new products to consumers via the coverage provided by enthusiast and mainstream media. Anyone who has covered CES in the past has had a forceful sales drone literally throw themselves between cameras and their products, chiding for attempting to show their products to the world outside of their carefully orchestrated marketing. This against our primary role as media and the show’s raison d’etre: to show new products to potential customers.

The show is held primarily in the Las Vegas Convention Center, a facility managed and operated by the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA), a self-described “quasi-governmental agency,” established by state law and funded by a county room tax. Having been constructed in 1959 from public tax money and expanded several times, including once in 1972 by funds generated through the sale of bonds by Clark County, the convention center is “publicly owned and operated,” according to the man I spoke to this morning at the LCVCA’s Research Department.

Because room taxes provide the majority of the funding, the “Convention Center and Cashman Center are not intended to be self-supporting but to generate convention, tourism, and business activity within Clark County,” according to the LVCCA’s 2006 SEC disclosure report.

I am still waiting for a response from the LVCVA (it’s still fairly early out there), but CES is not the only trade show to ban or restrict photography on the floor. The International Council of Shopping Centers, for instance, bans photography entirely.

The point remains. CES is a trade show designed to promote new products to not only the thousands of attendees, but millions of consumer electronics enthusiasts. If exhibitors want to protect their products from being photographed, they should rent a private hotel or conference room. This is exactly how most large companies already protect their prototypes and “secret” products from leaks.

Update: A spokesperson for the LVCVA called me this morning and said that, while not comfortable giving a final proclamation, that the Convention Center is a public facility, but can be rented for private events. When I asked him if the fact that the Convention Center is a public-owned space might affect the rights of show-goers to take pictures, he said “That’s a good question!” and referred us to the LVCVA’s legal counsel.

In addition, Gizmodo‘s Adrian Covert was kind enough to pass on this interaction he had this morning with CES’s press office that suggests the unofficial CES policy runs counter to the one stated in their FAQ.

From the the CE.org email to Adrian:

Thanks for your inquiry. I don’t believe you need special credentials to shoot digital or video cameras on the show floor. We used to require all press to have security stickers that we gave out in the press room on all their equipment but we stopped doing that last year or the year before. Having a press/blogger badge helps, but I don’t think it’s required. In other words, general attendees can shoot floor footage as well as press.

That’s good—if counter to the policy as stated in their FAQ—but it doesn’t address the primary issue: that exhibitors can prohibit the photography of gadgets that are on public display.

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14 Responses to CES Restricting Photography of Gadgets Out for All to See

  1. Lizzle says:

    They’re probably just frightened that you’ll steal their souls by taking pictures of them.

  2. themindfantastic says:

    CES ‘CONSUMER ELECTRONICS SHOW’ So the consumer who unless they go to these things, won’t be able to look and see pictures of the ‘neato shiny’ thing they have to offer. This is a serious case of shooting themselves in the foot. They only get to see it when its beside the NBA/Rap star on the beach or in space or whatever background they have chosen, doing everything they can to make it seem much better than it could ever really be. If its so damn good, let it be seen and stand on its own merits. If its not good why is it THERE? If its good let people take images of it and tell friends and actually I dunno GENERATE BUZZ By the best advertising there is… people talking about it.

  3. Halloween Jack says:

    Something tells me that the real reason for their making up this stupid rule is that they want to somehow set up their own blog so that they get the pageviews and ad revenue from people checking out the pics of new gadgets, rather than having those eyeballs go to this blog or Gizmodo or someone. Which, of course, is stupid; people go to the good gadget blogs because the bloggers are better commenters than some corporate shill. But try to tell them that…

  4. Teresa Nielsen Hayden / Moderator says:

    And let me add to Cory’s response to #2 that while many people believe that private property means the owners can impose whatever rules they fancy, it’s not actually true, as witness “show us your receipt or we won’t let you go” altercations in stores.

  5. Anonymous says:

    I bet you that if even one of those manufacturers took advantage of this “sad situation” to specifically advertize at their booth that anyone is free to take pictures, they would get a lot more press, generate a lot more buzz, and possibly steal all the attention from all the other exhibitors (thereby proving all of us here who say it’s stupid to restrict photography at this kind of trade show.)

  6. randee says:

    FWIW, they’re mainly concerned about cheap ripoffs being made from photographs. This is not unlike being able (or not) to take photos inside stores. I was with a friend who bought a pair of $800 shoes in Chanel over the weekend (let’s put the usefulness of that aside for the moment) but since she was getting them in a pre-sale and couldn’t take them home before the sale commenced, they wouldn’t let her take a photo to show her friends later. After she left the store with them, go with God. Inside the store, no way: They want to avoid competitors getting a leg up.

    Not supporting the policy, just explaining it a bit.

  7. Michael Brutsch says:

    @#4: I don’t think #2 meant the *venue* was private property – that’s not what you’re wanting to photograph anyway. It’s the *products* that you are interested in, and they are, indeed, private property. The fact that the venue was built with public funds is irrelevant; concerts and public performances are often held in these types of publicly-funded venues, with (apparently) legal restrictions on photography.

    The point about the irony is spot-on, however.

  8. joxman says:

    Joel,
    Greetings from CEA — I think a little further clarification may be helpful. First and foremost, our FAQ that you cite above is poorly drafted, and I am sorry about that. I’ve sent updated language to our web team that will be posted tomorrow, but I wanted to get a quick explanation to you in advance.

    You raise two important questions about our camera policy: (1) what’s with the stickers, and (2) what’s with the restrictions on photographing products.

    First, the stickers. As you know, there are tens of thousands of products on display at CES, many of which are — cameras. As you have no doubt seen, we employ security personnel on site because of the valuable equipment on display at the show. The last thing we want security personnel to do is bother reporters who are carrying their own cameras around the show floor and trying to leave carrying said cameras. So the stickers say to security personnel, “you can ignore me, I belong to a reporter.” Believe it or not, we’re using this process to try to help. Our FAQ doesn’t now make that clear — but it will tomorrow.

    Second, the photographs. Again, our FAQ explains this poorly. What it should (and now will) say is that our exhibitors reserve the right to restrict photographs of their products should they choose to do so. Media don’t have to get prior permission to photograph products (the FAQ explains this poorly too), but media should understand that some exhibitors may seek to protect their intellectual property by barring photos. CEA and the International CES do not make those determinations — we merely let attendees know that exhibitors may choose to exercise that option, so no one is surprised on site.

    I hope that helps clear things up. We look forward to welcoming you to the International CES, and if you need any additional information, I can be reached at joxman@ce.org.

    Jason Oxman
    Vice President — Communications
    Consumer Electronics Association

  9. EricT says:

    “The last thing we want security personnel to do is bother reporters who are carrying their own cameras around the show floor and trying to leave carrying said cameras. So the stickers say to security personnel, “you can ignore me, I belong to a reporter.” ”

    What fundementaly bothers me about this statement is the assumption that people are up to no good. I see someone carrying a camera at CES that person must have stolen it so I now have the right to detain and harrass that person.
    No crime has been witnessed or committed therefore no probably cause.

    I have an idea, wait for someone to commit a crime and then fall on them like a ton of bricks.

  10. Random Good Stuff says:

    This is a reason not to go at all. What’s the point then?

    Last year I got yelled at for taking products of this Hello Kitty stand:

    http://www.random-good-stuff.com/2007/01/12/ces-live-hello-kitty-gadgets/

    Sorry for promoting your stuff.

  11. Anonymous says:

    Hate to say it, but: Private property, their turf, their rules, no matter how much you disagree with the rules. You can try to convince them to change the rules, or you can live with the rules, or you can boycot.

    Or you can try to find a loophole, such as the sketch artists and transcriptionists who cover court cases where photography and recording aren’t allowed.

    If the rules don’t meet your needs as a journalist… maybe journalists AREN’T actually considered a primary target audience for this show, despite your tradition of covering it?

  12. NickD says:

    I work in the CE industry. This is especially troubling since major manufacturer are opting out of exhibiting at CES for this first time this year because products, information, and sales can be made via the internet. It costs millions of dollars to exhibit, and it is just not worth it anymore. Las Vegas in during CES is a place for salespeople and vendors to meet, but they save money by not having to pay CES millions to have a boot. It is only new Chinese OEMs that want to be seen for the first time that are going to exhibit from this point on. There is no need for the established players to show-off anymore. This move “no photos” move makes CES even more irrelevant to the industry.

  13. Joel Johnson says:

    @#2: That’s the thing: it’s not private property, but publicly-owned and operated.

  14. Cory Doctorow says:

    Anonymous@2: Straw man. No one is saying that CES doesn’t have the *right* to make up this stupid rule; critics are merely pointing out that it is a stupid rule. CES is private property and a business. We are its (potential) customers. The orderly functioning of a market demands that customers share information about the quality and character of goods and services in order to determine which ones we will patronize. So yes, CES is *allowed* to make up dumb rules, and we’re allowed to point out that it’s a stupid rule and no one should give them money while it is in place.

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